The animator behind the performances of memorable Pixar characters such as Monsters, Inc.’s Mike Wazowski, The Incredibles’ Edna Mode, and Finding Nemo’s Gill talks to Digital Arts about his career, what inspires him, and the hotly-anticipated Toy Story 3.
Who was your mentor?
Frank Molieri at Warner Bros. animation: after school, he was the guy who really looked after me and helped me become a better animator. The house style at Warner’s was more comedic, and it wasn’t until Pixar that I began to learn more about acting and proper physicality. When I started at Pixar, my mentor was Dylan Brown, who has gone on to supervize animation on Finding Nemo and Ratatouille.
Which piece of your work are you most proud of?
I guess the work I’m most known for is the work I did on Mike Wazowski, but the work I’m most proud of would probably be the work I did on Edna [Mode] in The Incredibles. I also enjoyed animating Gill in Finding Nemo. Certain characters or scenes resonate with the person doing them. Most of the work I look at, I cringe and think it could be so much better: it’s good to be hard on yourself.
Who’s the best creative you’ve worked with?
Doug Sweetland is an animator, now director, who I have always looked up too. His animation is inventive, entertaining and always pushed. I got to work with him on the new short film Presto [which is being shown before Wall•E]; this was one of the best experiences of my career. Doug’s work always stands out in a film. He not only has a great sense of timing, but his animation has a very distinct style.
What gets you up in the morning?
My daughter Ella – at 6am! But seriously, it’s the people you work with, the projects you work on and the love of the craft. I love animating, and would be happy doing that job for a very long time. Ultimately, animating is a great gig, because it’s so personal and can be so rewarding when you do a shot or character that people like.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
To have a plan before you animate. Do your research. Think about your shots, your character. Try to really get inside what the character is feeling. In essence, rehearse... The process of animation is similar to the process that actors go through. It requires a lot of work and energy. Every shot is like climbing a mountain. Another good piece of advice is to experience life; animation is about putting life into your work and you “Animating is a great gig, because it’s so personal and can be so rewarding” need to experience life and people in order to create interesting characters.
What’s the biggest challenge for animators?
I think the biggest challenge is how much we are growing and how to keep the great culture of the department in tact. The creative work of being an animator is always pushed and we enjoy those challenges. It used to be that we worked on every film. Now that is not possible and its frustrating because you want to be involved.
What advice would you have for someone starting out in the animation industry today?
My advice would be to study traditional animation first before you set foot on the computer. Learn as much about design, staging, acting, animation and so forth so you have a good base. Then you need to specialize in something. Storytelling is really important. You learn so much when you are making your own story.
Are there any current animation styles that you particularly appreciate or despise?
I don’t like much motion capture except when it’s used well, like Happy Feet or Lord of the Rings. I appreciate independent animation like The Man Who Planted Trees or Father and Daughter. I also love and respect all the work of Aardman. I think there is a huge appreciation at Pixar for the work of Aardman. The acting is so great and the characters are so well done.
What are you working on right now?
Toy Story 3. I worked on Toy Story 2, so it’s nice to work with these characters again. It’s like visiting with old friends. The story is amazing, so it really is a pleasure to work on the film.
Andrew Gordon is part of the team behind Pixar’s hit films, but he was inspired to become part of the animation world by the animation and stories of online Sierra games. Apart from copying the artwork of these games he also did 3D modelling and video capturing on the Amiga computer. He says, “The things that really impressed me were certain pieces of animation where you really knew that the animator had an understanding of animation and not just 3D. I wanted to learn more.” Among the characters he’s brought to life are Gill from Finding Nemo; Alec and Presto from Pixar’s latest short film, Presto, Mike Wazowski from Monsters, Inc. and Edna Mode from The Incredibles (below).
Andrew Gordon, animator, www.pixar.com